By Amena Garber
Self-image or self-esteem is how one views himself, both internally and externally, in a way that either exalts or humbles.
A. Biblical perspective
Self-image in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. The issue is in the high view of oneself and the exaltation oneself over God. A wrong self-image is characterized by a view that one should love himself first, in order to then go out and love others. Not only is this seen in the secular world, it is also seen quite often in the modern church. Walter Trobisch says this in his book Love Yourself, “Self-love is thus the prerequisite and the criterion for our conduct towards our neighbor.” The world sees self-love and acceptance from others as a need. But what would the biblical perspective of this be? Matthew 6:25-33 speaks on a biblical and Christian view in comparison to a gentile view of needs and how they will be provided. Then the author of this ends with a command for Christians to follow, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” There is another command like this in Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” From this verse one can see that people aren’t to love themselves first in order to love God and others. In fact, it is the complete opposite to that. The biblical view of self-image is to have a humble and lowly view of self. Now, this is not to lessen the value of a person, but Christians are called to “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3, ESV). Philippians also speaks about this in Philippians 2:3-4 specifically in seeing others as more important that oneself.
B. Secular perspective
A secular definition of self-image is “How we see ourselves on a more global level, both internally and externally.” It is a mental image one has of himself. According to Ackerman, self-image has three basic elements:
- The way a person perceives himself
- The way a person interprets others’ perceptions of himself
- The way a person would like to be
Again, self-image isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having a low self-image or an obsession with self-image is. There are several different ways psychologists treat or help this issue of a low self-image. There are a few different forms of therapy that can be used for this.
- Traditional Psychoanalysis
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectic Behavior Therapy
- Client – Centered Therapy
While the idea of self-image has existed for quite some time, there is a bit of history on the study and formation of thought on it. Morris Rosenburg wrote a book in 1965 titled Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. This book was one of the first to explore the topic. Abraham Maslow and Alfred Adler also created a hierarchy of needs, showing the secular view of humans needs that are both physical and emotional.
A wrong view of self has existed since Adam and Eve sinned, but it has become more popular in today’s society and has caused a ‘self-love’ movement. In fact, this has even reached the point that it is becoming common in modern churches today.
II. Evidence of the Problem
A few themes one may find in someone who is struggling with a low or distorted self-image could be:
- Feelings of emptiness
- Always seeking attention
- Seeking isolation
- Can be very boisterous
- History of unstable or unhealthy relationships
A low or distorted self-image may also find (in extreme cases) that they are depressed, struggle with an eating disorder, and may have anxiety.
III. Examining the Heart
A. Possible Heart Themes
- Lack of Trust
B. Idols of the Heart
IV. Biblical Solutions
When counseling someone with a distorted self-image, counselors have gone back to the Bible and the self-worth shown there. From there they show that Christians image and identity is/should be in Christ. The Bible never commands to love self, but instead to love God first and to love your neighbor. This is a wonderful verse to go directly to and has been used to help counselees who are struggling with this.
A. Recommended books
Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image by Jay Adams
B. Recommended Homework
Discovering Wonderful Things Worksheets
- Matthew 6:33
- Romans 12:3
- Philippians 2:3-4
Fitzpatrick, Elyse, Idols of the Heart, Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2001.
DeMoss, Nancy Leigh, Lies Women Believe, Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2001.
Adams, Jay, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, Eugene, Harvest House Publishers, 1986.
James, Sharon, God’s Design for Women, Webster, Evangelical Press, 2002.
 (Trobisch 1976)
 (Courtney E 2019)